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What is the Heart of Advent?

Have you noticed that Advent is no longer just a church thing? Take Advent calendars for instance. On one very large and well-known online store, I found I could buy almost any type of Advent calendar...some with a “surprise” chocolate every day…or a beer…or a Star Wars character…or Paw Patrol…or Lego…or tea…or playdough…and much, much, more. The variety makes my head spin. It’s a heyday for businesses that require a Christmas boom to get from red into the black, kicked off by Black Friday and ending in Boxing Day.  

But none of that takes me to the place I want to go. None of it helps me to quiet my mind and my expectations so that I can be open to what my soul longs for in the Season of Advent in the church: readying my heart and life anew for the advent - the arrival of God-with-us anew in this time and place.

Advent is about waiting...being awake and aware of our longing for God to come to us to bring healing, to liberate us from our addictions and fears...and to prepare our hearts and lives, to make room for God’s arrival. In Advent we hear words from the Old Testament prophets like Isaiah (“The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light…”). We hear the familiar “Prepare the way of the Lord!” from John the Baptist. We hear Mary’s profound “yes” to God’s work in her, Joseph’s faithfulness (Joseph did what the Angel of the Lord commanded him.”) We hear the Angel saying often “Do not be afraid”.  We adorn the Sanctuary with deep blue and we light the Advent candles of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. 

Advent is a time when I and we are invited to acknowledge our need for rescue, healing, deliverance, salvation -  individually, communally, and globally.  Pre-Covid, the word “salvation” was passe but today, scientists and theologians alike are onto it. As we, in the church, sit with the season of waiting to be saved - waiting for the inbreaking anew of God’s salvation, we sing:                                                                                                                                                                                   O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.                                                                                                       Rejoice, Rejoice, Emanuel, shall come to you O Israel.  

That’s Advent. And it’s profoundly countercultural. It calls for no forced joy or hope or peace or love. In the practice of Advent we don’t try to fill it with stuff. We sit with our longing for God’s inbreaking. Advent is a gift in itself, reminding us of the Great Story of God’s redemptive work in the midst of darkness, uncertainty, grief, fear, and lament...a Story alive with a Love that comes with a promise to change the world. We can prepare our hearts to recognise and receive but we don’t make it happen. Advent is about Someone approaching us. It is a place of trust.

Advent is living with a promise that is yet to be newly manifest in our time. From the Great Story we know that those who are awake, listening and responding will “go to Bethlehem” and will recognize anew that Love that came to us in Jesus and continues to come toward us today.  

May you and I experience anew what it means for us to hold on to the heart of Advent.  

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Jan